Prime Minister of Finland
As a Palestinian organisation dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights, Al-Haq wishes to express its appreciation of Finland's recent expression of concern about the worsening humanitarian, economic financial and situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). While grateful for such statements and support, Al-Haq urges Finland to take more concrete steps to bring about an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories and ensure that Israel respect its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.
Since it was founded in 1979, Al-Haq has observed a continuous deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the OPT. Despite repeated calls by the international community for Israel to respect and abide by international law, Israeli breaches of both human rights and humanitarian law in the OPT have continued unabated. Such actions have only served to perpetuate the suffering of the Palestinian people, escalate the conflict and destabilise the entire region, with the attendant repercussions for global security.
Since the start of 2006, Israel, which as an Occupying Power bears responsibility for the welfare of the Palestinian people, has stepped up its military operations in the OPT, including indiscriminate attacks and extra-judicial killings. Over the last seven days alone, Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip have resulted in the deaths of 77 Palestinians and injured hundreds more. Many of those killed were civilians not participating in hostilities, including women, young children and two paramedics working for an emergency unit of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. While Israel has the right to defend itself, this does not justify the clearly disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force against Palestinians, resulting in loss of civilian lives and destruction of civilian infrastructure, contrary to international humanitarian law.
Moreover, during 2006, the Israeli authorities have imposed increasingly oppressive restrictions on the movement of goods and people throughout the OPT. The closures system not only restricts Palestinian access to basic services such as health and education, but divides communities from one another and from their land, places of work and sites of religious worship. The closure system, combined with Israel's unlawful refusal to transfer Palestinian tax and customs revenues amounting to 50-60 million USD a month, has had a dramatic impact on the Palestinian economy. As mentioned in a recent EU Statement, 65% of the Palestinian population now live below the poverty line, most of them children deprived of their basic needs. In addition, over 150,000 civil servants, upon whom at least 25% of the population depend for support, have been paid only a fraction of their wages since March 2006. The severe lack of funds has had a dramatic impact upon the provision of essential public services. By restricting freedom of movement within the OPT and withholding desperately needed funds from the Palestinian National Authority, the Israeli Authorities are collectively punishing the Palestinian people and are thereby in breach of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Concurrent with the above, Israel has pressed ahead with the construction of the Annexation Wall in the West Bank, in open defiance of the International Court of Justice's 2004 determination that its construction violates international law. In addition to annexing land on which Palestinian dwellings and businesses are located, the Wall is being constructed in such a manner as to envelop Israeli settlements, which have been illegally established in the West Bank. These policies amount to de facto annexation of Palestinian territory in breach of international law.
Al-Haq is deeply concerned that the continuous flagrant violations of the fundamental principles of international law, and the impunity which Israel enjoys in this regard, are creating the perception among Palestinians that international law is incapable of protecting their rights. This situation effectively encourages Palestinians to seek their own means of protection, thereby perpetuating violence and contributing to the escalation of the conflict.
At a time when the Palestinian civilian population of the OPT finds itself denied the protection of the basic principles of international law, the international community must urgently and unequivocally stand in defence of these principles, and in doing so underline their commitment to their full application. The severe deterioration of the situation in the OPT can only be prevented, and a just and durable solution to the conflict found, through strict adherence to international law. Finland is in a unique position to carry out this responsibility. Al-Haq therefore urges Finland to take the following concrete steps:
- As a High Contracting Party to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to uphold its obligation under Article 1 to ensure the respect of international humanitarian law by holding Israel to its obligations under the Convention, and, with this in mind, to actively pursue the reconvening of the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention.
- To make effective use of the European Union Guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law (2005/C 327/04). Under paragraph 16 (b), (c) and (d) of these guidelines, EU institutions and member states should make general public statements that emphasise the need to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law, make demarches and issue public statements condemning Israel's violations of international humanitarian law and consider the imposition of restrictive measures or sanctions.
- To acknowledge, in the report on Finland's Presidency of the EU, that the necessary prerequisite for the solution to this conflict is an end to the occupation and strict adherence to international law.
Cc: Ambassador Kari Johannes Veijalainen, Ambassador of Finland in Israel
Heikke Hannikaine, Head of the Finnish Permanent Representative Office to the PNA